“The Senator” is the nickname of what was a 3500 year old Cypress Tree in Big Tree Park in Longwood Florida. Sadly, it burned down in January of 2012 when a drug addict lit a fire in the hollow at the base of the tree because “it was dark and she wanted light to see the drugs she was using.”. The culprit confessed and is expected to be sentenced shortly to either probation or a few months in prison.
I’ve written several blog articles about this and I hope you’ll forgive me for writing one more:
The latest chapter in this story is even more personal and began in December of last year when someone posted a comment on this photo of the Senator on Flickr asking if I’d be willing to sell a copy of the image. Tony Seifred and I exchanged a few emails, and to make a long story short we also ended up exchanging gifts. I gave Tony copies of two photographs of the Senator and he gave me a piece of the tree itself! I’ll let Tony tell his side of the story:
“Back when the tree burned, NPR covered the story the following morning. Within an hour I was cold calling county personnel and getting passed from one person to another. I was trying to encourage them to make offerings to school systems for educational purposes.
After many months I received an email that the decision had been made to take applications for remains. I contacted my local schools and museum trying to get them to apply. I even provided the applications. No one applied.
So I decided to try on my own. Eventually I did receive a piece of the outer part of the tree, but pick-up had to be in person. The story after that is long and convoluted but eventually did find someone there to accept payment to collect and ship the piece. Upon arrival the box was open and the piece had clearly been out.
Despite the rather expensive UPS store packing. Some pieces were broken off and still inside the wrapping. I am gifting you the largest of those pieces.”
Kudos to Tony for pursuing this and making it happen. I had the piece mounted together with the photo I made before it burned. Here’s how it looks:
This means a great deal to me and I’ll treasure it as a reminder of visits to the Senator before the tragedy. I’m exceptionally grateful to Tony for his generosity in sharing with me.
You may remember my posts about “The Senator”, a 3500 year old Cypress tree in Big Tree Park in Longwood, Florida (Big Tree Park – Home of the Senator, and “The Senator” is destroyed by fire). The destruction of the tree in January of last year was an awful event. The park closed after the fire but it’s open again now and the story has taken a fascinating twist – so I went by to check it out.
The Senator in September of 2011 – just a few months before the fire
The Senator in March of 2013 – the charred base of the original tree is all that’s left.
The Seminole Voice newspaper website had a good article with details on this very unlikely story (no longer available), but here’s a summary:
In 1997 a branch fell from the Senator after a storm.
A Miami science teacher happened to be there and happened to know about a North Florida tree farmer who was creating a cypress grove cloned from trees from all over the country.
The science teacher gave the branch to the farmer who used it to create ten cloned trees.
Seven of them survived (an unusually high percentage).
Fifteen years later, in January of 2012, the Senator burned.
A forestry specialist at the University of Florida heard about the fire and recalled the cloning project.
Seminole County officials then worked to move one of the clones to Big Tree Park.
The identical clone (appropriately named “The Phoenix”) was transplanted to Big Tree Park and dedicated on March 2nd, 2013. It’s doing well and is already more than 50 feet tall!
The Phoenix rises: An identical clone of the 3500 year old “Senator” cypress tree was started in 1997. Already 50+ feet tall, it was transplanted into Big Tree Park in 2012
There are some other changes, including a refurbished boardwalk, new signs with information about the park and trees, and new fencing (to keep drug addled arsonists out).
It’s horrible that this ancient tree burned, but it’s amazing that a clone existed. I wonder if people will visit “The Phoenix” far in the future and think about the 21st century, just like I sometimes think about the time 3500 years ago when The Senator first grew.
Note: This post was updated on 2/29/12 after the arrest of a woman who has confessed to starting the fire. And on 3/18/19 to remove dead links.
Today is a sad day.
“The Senator“, one of the oldest cypress trees in the world, caught fire, burned and collapsed this morning in Longwood Florida. It burned from the inside out and local firefighters spent several hours trying to put out the fire and save the tree. Efforts even included dumping water on the flames from a Sheriff’s helicopter. The fire was apparently caused by a woman inside the hollow tree who started the fire so she could see the illegal drugs she was using. These Orlando Sentinel links have more details:
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/seminole/os-senator-cypress-tree-fire-20120116,0,6171920.story (sorry – no longer available)
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/opinion/os-ed-michael-sacasas-tree-myword-011912-20120118,0,2070404.story (sorry – no longer available)
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-senator-tree-fire-arrest-20120228,0,4902574.story (sorry – no longer available)
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/os-beth-kassab-senator-fire-030112-20120229,0,3475224.column (sorry – no longer available)
The tree was an estimated 3500 years old. A 20 – 25 feet section of the base is still standing and it’s all that remains of the 125 foot tall tree that was there only yesterday. It was even taller before the top section was lost to a hurricane in 1925. “Lady Liberty”, a nearby companion tree thought to be 2000 years old was not damaged in this fire. Seminole county is now planning to spend $30,000 for fencing at the site to protect the remains of the Senator as well as Lady Liberty.
It is a big shame that Seminole County did not adequately protect this site. I’m so very glad I went by Big Tree Park last September to photograph the tree and write it up for Central Florida Photo Ops. I hope you visited too.
The Senator: Prior to the January 16, 2012 fire that destroyed it.